This is part of our conversation. For the rest of our interview, visit www.nationaldriller.com.
Q. Not all National Driller readers are involved in oil and gas (but they’re all familiar with dealing with drilling waste). Can you give me a brief description of what WSI International offers to the oil and gas market?
A. We offer both the treatment of frack and produced water. On the production water, we treat that and recycle that, both the frack fluids and the production water. On the drilling side, we actually build closed-loop drilling systems. We’re able to treat the solids as they’re drilling and, in many cases, we can leave them right behind on the drilling pad because they’re nothing more than dirt when we leave.
Q. Describe your typical customer.
A. A typical customer is one of the major oil and gas players. The clients range anywhere from Noble to Anadarko to EOG — those type of people.
Q. Obviously, you serve a pretty informed customer base. Are there common misconceptions about wastewater processing that you might like to clear up?
A. The biggest problem in the oil and gas industry is the fact that the oil producers themselves are not familiar — I’ve been doing water treatment for 40 years — and they’re not that familiar with water treatment so it’s taking them … they’re having a difficult time deciphering what really works and what doesn’t work because they’re just not that familiar with the various technologies. So, that really is one of the hardest issues that I have in selling it to the market, because there’s so many people out there with processes that really don’t work and they’re very old processes and the oil and gas people aren’t familiar with them. Even though they were around 100 years ago, they’re new to this market.
Q. So there may be competitors out there that don’t work as well or in the same way as your product and there’s just a misunderstanding of how to compare apples to apples or, in this case, apples to oranges?
A. There’s not one solution for this whole thing. It takes a system, and that’s what we do. We design complete systems.
Q. Talk to me about WSI’s Drilling Rig Wastewater Treatment Module. First, briefly describe what it does and how it does it.
A. On the module to treat the frack and the produced water, we have it containerized. It comes in either three or four containers, depending on whether it’s 10,000 or 15,000 barrels a day. Basically, we treat the frack and the produced water that’s incoming to the levels that it can be used for recycle. We also treat the frack and produced water that is — one of the big problems is salts. In many cases on the production water we’re able to very readily clean it, take out all the scaling agents, and then re-salt that, actually make it saltier. Bring it up to, say, a 10-pound drilling brine. That’s a much more, I would say, lucrative market for people like ourselves or even the oil and gas companies. Right now in Montana and North Dakota and parts of Wyoming they’re paying anywhere from $10-$15 a barrel for 10-pound brine. In North Dakota, where it’s really salty up there, you’re getting 200,000 mg per liter of salt, once we take out all the scaling agents, the oil, the metals and all that, then it’s ready to reuse automatically for 10-pound brine. Literally you have to almost add no salt.
Q. So you’re, in effect, eliminating one more service or one more product that they have to buy or partake in?
A. Right. We produce that. Currently what they do is they take a lot of fresh water and they mix it up and they make 10-pound brine. Well, that’s silly when they’ve got all the salt water they need. And some of the saltwater is so salty it can’t be treated by conventional means, just evaporation. So, we take and convert that so they can reuse it, to make drilling fluids out of it.
Q. What does the process yield, as far as solids? Are you handling the disposal of those?
A. We do. That’s one of the biggest components that’s missing in most people’s systems. … When we get done removing the scaling agents, like calcium and bicarbonates, we remove the sulfates, we remove the iron, we remove different various metals, pretty much when we remove that, what does all that do? That generates an enormous amount of solids. You can see in 10,000 barrels 30 to 40 tons of solids being removed. One of the other modules, the module on the other side of the water treatment system, is for dewatering and we actually treat those solids. We remove the hydrocarbons so that it can be disposed of. So we treat the solids, remove the hydrocarbons, then actually you can go out and land-spread those solids. Again, it gets back to we’re leaving nothing but really drilling dirt and stuff like that.
On solids, you hit it on the head. One of the most important components that no one seems to have caught on to yet is, what are you going to do with all these solids? And you’ve got the solids in the form of what we’re removing from the frack and the production water, you’ve got a huge amount of drilling solids running around out there that are spent, and they need to be recovered. We do all that. We not only treat the solids coming off our production platform for treating frack and produced water, but we also take the same module and we can actually run it backwards and put it onto drilling platforms. We actually dewater first, and then treat the water that’s coming off and return that back to the drilling rig as clean water.
Q. So, in effect, what comes out the other side of your process is water that’s suitable to go back in the ground for hydraulic fracturing and also inert solids that can just be spread around, don’t take any special precautions for disposal?
A. The inert solids that we generate are stabilized to EPA standards so that they can be land-farmed.
Q. Can you talk about the development process for a field-based solution like this? How long did it take to develop and what kind of technical expertise went into it?
A. My basic background comes out of pulp and paper. I have built recycled paper mills most of my life. We took the same technology that came from that and literally redeveloped that and patented some of the various processes that we came up with for oil and gas. So, essentially we use very solid water technology. In a pulp mill, you use 50 million gallons per day of water and you have to recycle that. It’s much nastier water.
Q. Really? I wouldn’t think about paper production and hydrocarbon production as even close.
A. They don’t have the hydrocarbons, but they’ve got a lot more chemicals and other things in there as well, and that has to be treated out. It’s a different process. However, a lot of the same technology was applicable in the oil and gas industry. Basically, our module, our system comes from a very well-developed — you know, I’ve been working on that; the very first dissolved air flotation unit we put in was in the ’70s. So, we’ve been doing this for over 40 years.
Q. So, how long has WSI been around?
A. Ten years.
Q. Drilling fluids treatment is obviously a dirty job. Is there on-site maintenance required to keep a system like this running optimally?
A. There’s always maintenance, because you have pumps and things like that. You have to maintain your pumps, which is standard maintenance, but nothing exceptional.
Most of the systems have very few moving parts. So it’s not high maintenance, but it’s your standard pump maintenance and things like that that go along with operating a system like this.
Q. Is this something that you support out in the field? Do your guys come out and maintain it, clean it up?
A. We have a complete maintenance schedule, maintenance program that we offer to various clients. We come out every three months, bring everything back in line, check everything to make sure it’s running properly.
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